The (Surprisingly Complicated) Question of D.C. Statehood

Look, to me, it's pretty simple: Taxation without representation was a founding Revolutionary principle of this country. So if the people of D.C. want to petition Congress for Statehood I don't see how you can possibly say no to it. 

But as simple as that was for me to type, doing some basic digging on the interwebs reveals a fascinating mess of a problem that, if our discourse was not so shitty, any halfway decent country would have sat down and solved years ago. The crux of it all comes from the District Clause of the Constitution:
The Congress shall have the Power to exercise executive legislation in all cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten miles square) as may, by the cession of particular states, and the acceptance of Congress become the seat of the government of the United States.
The mess of it all begins here because it essentially gives control of D.C. to Congress- and sure enough, the District of Columbia Organic Act of 1801 did just that, and almost immediately people were like, "Wait, what now?" 

Oh, that's right. People have been pointing out the weirdness of the situation since 1801. 

(Fast forward to 1961-- there were Bills, Amendments, etc proposed to fix the D.C. situation in the meantime, but the second complication arrived in 1961.)

The Twenty-third Amendment!
Section 1. The District constituting the seat of Government of the United States shall appoint in such manner as the Congress may direct:

A number of electors of President and Vice-President equal to the whole number of Senators and Representatives in Congress to which the District would be entitled if it were a state, but in no event more than the least populous State; they shall be in addition to those appointed by the State, but they shall be considered, for the purposes of the election of President and VIce-President, to be electors appointed by a State; and they shall meet in the District and perform such duties as provided by the twelfth article of amendment.

Section 2. The Congress have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
The TL;DR of all this is that D.C was given three electoral votes in Presidential elections- a better step forward would have been some kind of representation in Congress folded into this Amendment, but Congress being Congress, they didn't. If they had done that it's entirely possible a lot of this discussion now would be moot. As it stands, the District clause + the 23rd Amendment make figuring this out more complicated and not less.

To me, the District Clause seems easier to solve. Congress is given the authority over the District, so to me, it stands to reason that if the Residents of the District voted for Statehood, Congress could transfer that authority to the duly elected representatives of that State, should an act of Congress be enacted granting D.C. statehood. The hitch here is that it might make D.C. the only state in the union where a state government could, theoretically, be suspended by the Federal Government. Not exactly a precedent I'd want to set- trusting that Congress won't just suspend shit and take back over again at the drop of a hat- but I think it could be done.

The real problem is the 23rd Amendment. From what I'm seeing, the general idea is to have a shrunken Federal enclave that includes Congress, the White House, Supreme Court, etc serve as "The Capital" which okay, fine- that makes sense. But the 23rd Amendment grants electors to "The District constituting the seat of Government of the United States" so ru-roh, you've just handed the Federal government three electoral votes. 

(I know how this goes. If you're a Democrat, you think, "Yipee! Three bonus electoral votes so we won't have to worry about that pesky electoral college ever again! It's like six Electoral Votes in the bag for Team Blue, Baby." If you're deeply cynical, like me, you anticipate the howls of outrage when a Republican Congress and/or President casts three electoral votes in favor of Team Red. Or you get even crazier and give each branch of the government an electoral vote and- well, you see where this is going, right?)

So, what do we do?

I know a lot of Conservatives seem to go in for pearl-clutching at the thought of Puerto Rico becoming a state, but they really shouldn't. Should Puerto Rico ever vote for Statehood, I think it'd be far more competitive than either Major Party thinks it is-- so assuming both D.C. and Puerto Rico voted for Statehood, admitting both would be an okayish compromise, politically speaking I think. 

But this also assumes that both places would vote for Statehood. I really hate the hand-wavey thing on Twitter that just assumes that Statehood for both is in the bag...  D.C.'s status is messy at best (on principle, it's not messy at all. If they want to be a state, they should be allowed full representation) and will probably require a Constitutional Amendment to fix. Puerto Rico keeps asking two-part, complicated questions that don't really seem to produce a result one way or the other- so it's not guaranteed by any stretch of the imagination. 

I think the idea that D.C. is not a state was made into a now laughable fiction decades ago with the passage of the 23rd Amendment. It's got Electoral Votes and for the purposes of Presidential elections gets to act like any other state in the union. It's no use screaming, "D.C. can't be a state!" anymore. That ship has sailed, in my opinion. The 23rd Amendment makes it a de facto state, so it's well past time to go the rest of the way and make it an actual state.

How do we get there?

The real crux of the issue is political. Given the current political climate, DC will most likely be very Democratic-- (because if Republicans ran the Big Cities, they'd be accountable for their failures and thus unable to scream bloody murder about "Democrat Cities" being "desolate criminal dystopian hellscapes") and Republicans don't want two more Democratic Senators. It's easy to sit here and say that politics shouldn't get in the way of things like principle or what's right but even I can't keep a straight face when I'm typing that sentence, so as much as it shouldn't matter the politics of this does matter.

So, really, to make this happen you need DC plus one. If Republicans are smart and Puerto Rico wants in, they'd be fine with that. But let's say Puerto Rico continues their quadrennial tradition of "quizas, quizas, quizas" and doesn't, then who are you gonna get for a plus one? 

There's been plenty of movements of late to break up states and some thinking floating around out there about how to make it easier- I am of two minds about it. I think it'd be better to re-learn the art of moderation and compromise and actually live together than to break up into separate enclaves of "red" and "blue" just because we don't like each other. But even if you wanted to be a state, it's complicated as heck, because it requires the consent of the State Legislature you're currently in and if you're jumping boundaries, it requires both states to sign off. Which is as likely as a snowball surviving in hell, so really, it's impossible.

And it shouldn't be impossible. Should it be a pain in the ass? Yes. Should it be difficult? Yes. But impossible? No. So, the 28th Amendment:
If the population of any given state or states wishes to secede from their respective states to form a new state and their petition to the Legislatures of their current states is rejected in consecutive legislative sessions, said populace may directly petition Congress for statehood, provided an Act of Statehood is passed with a 2/3rd majority through both Houses of Congress.
You can fiddle with the language if you want to- but basically, if the state (or states) you want to leave turn you down twice, you can directly petition Congress for Statehood. Maybe you include requirements for consecutive referendums reaching a certain participation threshold in the areas that want to form a new state as well- just to make the hurdle high enough to warrant overruling state legislatures, but however, you do it: you don't make it impossible. 

In this scenario, D.C. Statehood and a repeal of the 23rd Amendment could be paired with, say, admitting the State of Jefferson to the Union. Or Eastern Washington. Or Super Dakota. Suddenly, it becomes far more palatable to both sides of our poisoned discourse. 

The other solution is far less palatable- because to me, if they vote for Statehood, I don't see why the will of the voters shouldn't be respected- but you could also try this 28th Amendment:
All Districts, Commonwealths, territories, and sovereign tribal nations that shall, with a vote of their populace, express a desire to send Delegates to the United States Congress their Representatives will be accorded the same rights and responsibilities as any other member of the United States Congress.
There is no reason whatsoever that we should rule over territories that lack meaningful, real representation in Congress. And while not every recognized tribal nation may want to send a Delegate to Washington- some, like the Cherokee have claimed that right by treaty and if others want to join in, why not? They live here as well. It may not be the full representation that a state gets, but it will be taxation with representation. It wouldn't be a perfect solution- and therefore it would be unlikely to please anyone at all.

But under this scenario, D.C. would remain a District. It would have full representation in the House of Representatives and what the hell, let's give them three Delegates to match the Electoral votes under the 23rd Amendment.

Really though, it all comes back to the politics of it all. We don't pass Constitutional Amendments anymore, never mind repealing them-- and I honestly think that D.C Statehood will probably take a Constitutional Amendment to actually get done. I do think the populace has a right to ask for Statehood and they also have the right to reject things like retrocession back to Maryland (which Maryland would have to agree to- another complication!) But if taxation without representation was a founding Revolutionary principle of this country, you have to back a solution. Whether that's statehood for D.C. or some other form of full representation I don't know- but "I don't want two more Democratic Senators" should not be an acceptable argument to deny the wishes of District residents for self-determination. (Also, D.C is actually a member of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization which should be kind of embarrassing for the richest, most prosperous nation on the face of the damn planet, but here we are.)

We've been wrangling about this since 1801. It's well past time to put aside all the partisan bullshit and sit down and find some sort of a solution to this. 

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Netflix & Chill #86: The Great Hack/The Social Dilemma

Serial Saturday #11: A Bookstore In Matsu

Tiki Tuesday #3: Jungle Bird